I'm Affraid To Let Myself Be Happy In The Single Life

Are you afraid that if you let yourself be happy while single you will no longer have a chance at marriage? On the contrary, Emily Stimpson, author of “A Catholic Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Single Years,” states that it is possible to be happy and single while still hoping for marriage.

Finding Your Tribe

It is very key for new parents to be supported by friends and family. But Lisa Popcak, Co-author of “Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising Almost Perfect Kids,” also explains that too much support can hurt your family and must be rightly proportioned and balanced.

Soulmates? Become What You Are.

A lot of pastors and other marriage ministers have a very strong, negative opinion of the word, “soulmate.”  I can understand where they’re coming from.  For many couples, finding a soulmateshutterstock_173103083 implies that they should never have problems again.  Of course, this can become a huge concern if and when this couple hits difficulties in their relationship.  After all, soulmates shouldn’t argue–or at least, argue this much–should they?

Soulmates Less Happy Than Sojourners

Some new research highlights the potential problems with the idea of searching for (or finding) a soulmate.

“Our findings corroborate prior research showing that people who implicitly think of relationships as perfect unity between soulmates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out,” says Lee.

“Apparently, different ways of talking and thinking about love relationship lead to different ways of evaluating it.”

In one experiment, Lee and Schwarz had people in long-term relationships complete a knowledge quiz that included expressions related to either unity or journey, then recall either conflicts or celebrations with their romantic partner, and finally evaluate their relationship.

As predicted, recalling conflicts leads people to feel less satisfied with their relationship — but only with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind.  READ MORE.

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwaterfbfv

I agree that understanding the idea of “soulmate” in these terms is seriously problematic, but I’m not ready to throw the word out just yet.  I do believe that God puts us together with our spouse and that he does so for more reasons than his warped sense of humor.  I think Pope St. John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body can shed some light on a healthy sense of soulmate.  Pope JPII used to tell people, “Become what you are.”  In other words, we are not the people we see when we look in the mirror.  We are the people that God sees when he looks at us–the perfect, grace-filled, godly people we are to spend our life becoming.  This is our authentic self and God roots for us to achieve this identity in him. Become what you are!

Reclaiming the Soulmate

I believe that soulmates are also called to become what they are; namely, they are to be each other’s best hope for helping each other become everything God created them to be in this life and preparing each other to arrive properly attired at the Eternal Wedding Feast.  I believe that God gave you this husband or this wife because he knows that you will have a better chance of becoming everything he created you to be with this person in your life than you even would on your own.  Sometimes you will grow because of them, sometimes you will grow in spite of them, but you will grow better and faster with them in your life than you would without them.  I believe that’s why God hates divorce.  He knows that it makes it infinitely harder for us to fulfill his plan for our life without our soulmate than with him or her–even when there are problems in the marriage.

Seen through the lens of the Theology of the Body, a soulmate isn’t a celebration of compatibility.  It is a promise of transformation.  “I choose you to help me fulfill God’s plan for my life and to help you fulfill God’s plan for your life in sickness and health, for richer and poorer, in good times and bad, for as long as we both shall live.”  just married

The idea of a soulmate is an ancient one.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it goes back thousands of years to the idea of the “bashert” (“chosen one”).  The answer for the Christian minister wrestling with the Disneyfication of the soulmate is not to throw it under the bus.  Rather, we need to reclaim the deeper meaning of the term.  It is God’s will that we become what we are–what he wants us to be.  Our bashert (or basherta for the feminine), our soulmate, is our helpmate on the journey to God.

To discover how and your mate can become the soulmates that you are, check out For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage and Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First 5 Years of Marriage.

Parenting Style Affects Children’s Genetics

Most people think of genes as static.  For most people, genes are things we’re born with that make up the basic programming that cause things–like traits, preferences & disorders–to happen to shutterstock_163230620us.  But genes are actually more dynamic than this.  They do make up that basic programming that shapes who we are, but they also can be directly impacted by our environment.  Some genes can be turned on or turn off because of environmental factors.  Some genes make their presence more or less strongly felt because of the things that a person experiences.  The study of how environment affects gene expression is called “epigenetics.”  When people talk about genes impact on behavior–e.g., depression, anxiety, addiction, homosexuality–they are not really talking about being “born that way” so much as they are discussing the process of epigenetics–how environment causes genes to bring forth certain traits in a person.

Pope St John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body describes how God’s plan for relationships can be discovered to a large degree by contemplating the design of our bodies.  God’s fingerprints are all over his creation.  The more particular behaviors, choices, and ways of relating facilitate the health and well-being of a person, the more we can confidently say that those behaviors, choices, and ways of relating reflect God’s intention for us.  Parenting, more and more, is being shown to have a powerful impact on the way genes are expressed.  Two new studies demonstrate this relationship in a powerful way.  Take a look.

1. Maltreatment Impacts Genes Associated with Social Functioning

…researchers found an association between the kind of parenting children had and a particular gene (called the glucocorticoid receptor gene) that’s responsible for crucial aspects of social functioning and health. Not all genes are active at all times. DNA methylation is one of several biochemical mechanisms that cells use to control whether genes are turned on or off. The researchers examined DNA methylation in the blood of 56 children ages 11 to 14. Half of the children had been physically abused.

They found that compared to the children who hadn’t been maltreated, the maltreated children had increased methylation on several sites of the glucocorticoid receptor gene, also known as NR3C1, echoing the findings of earlier studies of rodents. In this study, the effect occurred on the section of the gene that’s critical for nerve growth factor, which is an important part of healthy brain development.

There were no differences in the genes that the children were born with, the study found; instead, the differences were seen in the extent to which the genes had been turned on or off. “This link between early life stress and changes in genes may uncover how early childhood experiences get under the skin and confer lifelong risk,” notes Seth D. Pollak, professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who directed the study.

Previous studies have shown that children who have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect are more likely to develop mood, anxiety, and aggressive disorders, as well as to have problems regulating their emotions. These problems, in turn, can disrupt relationships and affect school performance. Maltreated children are also at risk for chronic health problems such as cardiac disease and cancer. The current study helps explain why these childhood experiences can affect health years later.  READ MORE

2.  Attachment and Genetics of Long Term Health

Tulane University psychiatrist Dr. Stacy Drury has been given $2.4 million by the National Institutes of Health to test a provocative new theory — how well children bond with a parent in the first year of life leaves lasting genetic protection, potentially shielding them from disease risks well into adulthood.Drury, a geneticist, is a pioneer in new research exploring the biological impacts of early adversity on children. She is the first scientist to show that extreme stress in infancy can biologically age a child by shortening the tips of chromosomes, known as telomeres. These caps keep chromosomes from shrinking when cells replicate. Shorter telomeres are linked to higher risks for heart disease, cognitive decline, diabetes and mental illness in adults.

“Telomeres are clearly a marker of the aging process, but they are increasingly being linked to stress,” says Drury, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and direcPWG PHOTOtor of the Behavioral and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Laboratory at Tulane University School of Medicine. “And what this suggests is that we have a marker that is in a cell that is sort of tracking the lasting impact of these negative early life experiences.”

…She and Tulane scientists are recruiting 500 pregnant women to see if a responsive and sensitive parental bond can create a “biological buffer” in children that protects against telomere shortening and toxic stress.  The Tulane Infant Development Study will be the first to document what happens physiologically before and after infants develop “attachment,” the all-important bond with mothers or primary caregivers.  READ MORE

Again and again, we see that the strength of the bond between parent and child determines so much.  If parents listen to the way God has designed their own and their child’s body to function at its best, it becomes clear that, prompt attention to needs and  a deep, intimate loving connection combined with gentle discipline is truly how God intends parents to relate to their children.  If you would like to learn how the Theology of the Body can help you become the parent God is calling you to be, check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.  

How to Make Homework Time Happier

Homework is most of the time a dreaded part of the evening for the entire family, as well as the student. Lisa Popcak, Co-author of “Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising Almost Perfect Kids,” offers some amazing but simple approaches to homework that will transform this time into a bonding and enjoyable event! Don’t believe it? Watch and see!

Does God Want YOU to Be Happy? Read Pope Francis’ 10 Point Happiness Plan

When I ask people, “What do you want?”  The #1 answer I get is, “I just want to be happy.”  Happiness is a hard enough goal to achieve but Christians have an extra hurdle.  Upon expressing a francis laughdesire for happiness, many of my Catholic clients immediately say, “But I feel guilty because God doesn’t really care about my happiness. He wants me to be holy.”

Are Happiness and Holiness Mutually Exclusive?

I have often heard the phrase, “God desires our holiness more than our happiness.”  I understand the sentiment, but I don’t necessarily agree and I’m fairly certain our Church doesn’t agree either.  I think this view is predicated on the notion that authentic happiness and holiness are mutually exclusive.  If that were true, I would certainly think that choosing holiness was the better part.   But I would suggest that this is an error.  The truth is that holiness is actually the fruit of authentic happiness–it is difficult to have the former if you don’t have the latter.

“Authentic Happiness”  VS.  Mere Enjoyment

Psychologists define “authentic happiness”  as the stable experience of joy that comes from pursuing a life that is meaningful (i.e., uses one’s gifts to benefit others), intimate (i.e., having healthy, bene laughrich, loving relationships), and virtuous (i.e., exhibiting the strength to use whatever life throws at you as an opportunity for growth and development). Authentic happiness is differentiated from mere enjoyment, which is transient and rooted in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of conflict.  The answer to the question of whether God desires our happiness, I would argue, depends on whether you define happiness as “authentic happiness”  (what we Christians call the virtue of “Joy”)  or mere enjoyment.

Authentic Happiness Facilitates Holiness

Assuming that you mean “authentic happiness/joy” I would suggest that the pursuit of happiness–especially if it is done in a spirit of prayer– actually facilitates holiness because true holiness is the fruit of an attempt to live a meaningful, intimate and virtuous life in cooperation with God’s grace.  It is exactly because of this understanding that Popes have made so many statements in support of the pursuit of happiness.

3 Popes Say, “Be Happy!”

For instance, Pope St. John Paul the Great said in 2002, “People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him.”

Pope Benedict XVI, picked up the theme of authentic happiness specifically when he said in 2012, “God wants us to be happy always. He knows us and he loves us. If we allow the love of Christ happy jpiito change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness.”  

Today, an Argentine newspaper printed the first part of a multipart interview with Pope Francis in which he lists his thoughts on a 10-point plan for happiness.  Here is a summary of those points.

Pope Francis 10-pt Happiness Plan

1.  Acceptance–The Pope said, “The Romans have a saying, which can be taken as a point of reference.  They say: Campa e lascia campà’ (live and let live). That’s the first step to peace and happiness.”  

I suspect this comment will raise some eye-brows, but I think there is something deeper going on here than the Pope saying–as some might suggest–that its none of our business how other people live.  Rather, I think his point is rooted in the Ignatian practice (he is a Jesuit after all) of “charitable interpretation” in which we realize that even when people aren’t being their best, they have what they consider to be good reasons for acting that way.  Unless we know those reasons (and we won’t unless they tell us) then we are obliged to assume that they are where God wants them to be right now and that he is working things out in their life in his own good time.    This benevolent acceptance is different than permissiveness that says, “Do what you want, I don’t care.”  which, I would suggest, and I suspect the Pope would agree is actually quite contrary to the Gospel.”

2.  Giving oneself to others.  —“Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”

3.  Take time for quiet reflection/mindfulness.   — “Proceed calmly” cultivate, “the ability to move with kindness and humility, a calmness in life.”

4.  Enjoying leisure time with family.  –Francis then recalled that when he was in Buenos Aires, he would often ask young mothers how often they play with their children.  “It was an unexpected question,” he said. “It is hard. The parents go to work and come back when the children are asleep.” But he said although it is difficult to find the time, “it must be done.”

5.   Make Sunday a family day. —“Sunday is for family,” 

6.  Meaningful & rewarding work.–“It’s not enough to give them food,” he said. “Dignity is given to you when you can bring food home”

7.  Taking time in nature and caring for it– “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'”

8.  Respecting differences between people–“We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing,”

9.  Letting go of offenses and renouncing negativity–“Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,'”  Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”

10.  Seek to make peace with others.–“the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive”

Bottom line, the Church is not an enemy of your happiness.  The Church wants you to experience the kind of authentic happiness that satisfies your heart and your soul, both in the present and in the hereafter as well!

If you’d like to learn more about how your faith can help you be happier in your life and relationships, I’d invite you to learn more about the Pastoral Solutions Institute Tele-Counseling practice. Let us help you experience what living the Joy of the Gospel can do for your marriage, family and personal life.